By Iain Gardener
Since the referendum on Scottish Independence was announced, polls have consistently shown the ‘No’ camp holding a considerable lead. The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey came out in January 2014, reinforcing the view that economic uncertainty has been the main cause for concern about the consequences of a ‘Yes’ vote. One survey in particular highlighted the sticking point for undecided voters: Scots were more inclined to vote yes if they would be £500 better off each year in an independent Scotland. In fact under these conditions, the Yes campaign is in the lead.
The details of disputed oil revenues, doubts over a change in currency and our ability to ‘go it alone’ will be rehashed by the media until September this year. While supporters concede a strong economy is key to the future of the country, it should also cause reflection on the state of the current political debate. When in history has a separatist movement ever been fought on simple economic motivation, rather than on issues of principle like democracy, national identity or autonomy? By ignoring wider issues the media may be guilty of reducing the entire case for a sovereign nation to the question of whether it leaves us better off financially.
The ‘Yes’ campaign is still trailing in the most recent YouGov poll, with just a third of Scots supporting Scottish independence. The issues, which the debate has focused on has contributed to this lack of momentum in the campaign. The economy has been dominating coverage, meaning areas of real substance have been omitted from the debate. In particular, areas in which Scottish public opinion differs greatly from British public opinion. These are the kind of issues which led to the SNP majority in Holyrood in 2011, with the nationalists performing far better than polls had then predicted. This election was a signal of both the lack of trust in Westminster and a growing sense of Scottish national identity.
When British MPs debated intervention in the months preceding the Iraq War in 2003, intelligence proving the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction was used to justify a war, which has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths. The 45 minute claim was made by the government – a falsehood or piece of ‘bad intelligence’ which suggested Britain was in immediate danger from a nuclear attack from Saddam Hussein. This of course turned out to be untrue – no such weapons were found in Iraq.
Scottish opinion on the war that followed this deception has been evident in voting patterns ever since. Serious damage was done to the Labour Party’s performance in Scottish and UK elections, and the party has still not recovered today. The disillusionment with Labour in Scotland during the war was crucial to the election of the SNP to a majority government with the mandate to pose the independence question. Without British involvement in the Iraq war, it is unlikely we would be in the midst of a referendum campaign today.
So why in the wake of the Snowden revelations, is deception by the British Government not more of a talking point? The public surveillance issue has dominated global news headlines over the past 6 months and yet has been entirely overlooked by the mainstream media when it comes to the issue of independence. The surveillance of the Scottish people by GCHQ, the spying agency of the British Government, is surely an issue worthy of discussion. Never on Question Time though, Newsnight Scotland, nor any ITN or Sky production, is this issue raised in relation to the independence question.
We can deduce from this that the mainstream British broadcasters’ tendency to protect what the state defines as national security has led to an assumption that there is no broad consensus of anti-surveillance feeling in Scotland. The ‘national security’ defence, the preferred linguistic weapon of those who support the public surveillance programs, has instead been used to argue against independence.
In a statement which showed the lengths the UK government would go to in an attempt to scare Scottish voters, Conservative Home Secretary Teresa May recently described Scottish Independence as a threat to national security. Arguing that in the transition period, a Scottish intelligence service would be less equipped to combat a terrorist attack. This may be true, but prevention is better than a cure. The likelihood of an attack would be dramatically lower as the result of a Yes vote. Scotland would no longer be attached to the damaging foreign policy of the American government, as the UK is today.
Independence would effectively mean rejecting the campaign of bombing and drone attacks on civilians which sparks anger across the Arab world. Scottish soldiers would no longer be sent overseas to die in wars that the UN determine to be illegal, but that British MPs voted for. Of course you can never claim to eliminate the threat of terrorism completely, but independence would make Scotland far less of a ‘legitimate target’ for violent retaliation. Those who are afraid of the consequences of a Yes vote should consider that it would be a step closer to a world where taxpayers don’t need to spend huge proportions of taxes on nuclear weapons, sending our soldiers to lose lives overseas or maintaining an illegal surveillance programme monitoring our populations’ internet habits.
Living in a democratic society is not just about being free to vote for representatives. It is also vital that the public understands and engages with the issues they are voting on, with an effective media that facilitates an open and balanced discussion. For a well informed decision to be made this September we cannot afford to continue whitewashing the security and privacy concerns that come with our place in the union.